Follow TV Tropes


Aquatic Sauropods

Go To
Up periscope!

In the days when dinosaurs were imagined to be sluggish, cold-blooded, and very stupid, sauropods were thought of as dwelling in lakes and swamps, often eating aquatic plants. This was due to a belief that adult sauropods were simply too heavy to stand unaided, and so need some kind of medium more substantial than air to support them. Sauropod bones also had hollow areas — especially along the vertebrae — that were thought to contain air sacs. These air sacs were supposedly to help them stay afloat. Many sauropods, such as Brachiosaurus, were thought to have had nostrils on the tops of their heads, which would let them breathe even if they were almost completely underwater. Some have suggested that these theories may have been influenced by the existence of prehistoric long-necked marine reptiles such as plesiosaurs.

For many years, these theories were reflected in fiction. Sauropods spent decades being associated with warm, luxuriant swamps. During much of the 20th century, sauropods were generally depicted as mostly stationary animals submerged up to at least their hips in fetid, stagnant water, occasionally moving their heads to feed on plants. When they did move, it was almost always a lazy drifting through the wetlands and lakes they called home.

However, later research put the kibosh on that idea. During the dinosaur renaissance that began in the late 1960s, many longstanding assumptions about dinosaur physiology, behavior and evolution were challenged or outright disproven. One of these assumptions was the idea that sauropods had to live in the water. Studies of sauropod anatomy and footprints proved that they were strong enough that they could support their bulk in open air environments, and that they were terrestrial animals no more likely to take to the water than modern-day elephants. Meanwhile, the "nostrils" on the tops of some sauropods' skulls were found to actually be a large resonating chamber to aid in communication. Their hollow bones and possible air sacs were found to be a product of their newly-accepted relation to birds. Their feet were also proportionately rather narrow compared to amphibious animals, which have broader feet to more evenly disperse body weight and avoid sinking in wet substrates. Furthermore, analysis of sauropod teeth showed wear patterns consistent with diets heavy in tough, fibrous material rather than soft water plants. More and more, the image of the water-dwelling sauropod was found to be inaccurate. By the end of the 1970s, the consensus in the paleontological community was that they were landlubbers. Fiction has generally followed suit from the early 1990s on, but this trope still pops up every now and again as a means of scale for these massive creatures. More recently, there has been evidence that some sauropods probably did live in marshy floodplains and wetlands, a naturally fecund environment that produces a lot of greenery, although they still would have been quite capable of moving around on land.

Compare Aquatic Hadrosaurs, a trope for another type of dinosaur that was once incorrectly thought to primarily live in the water (but for different reasons). A subtrope of Artistic License – Paleontology. If this shows up in a pre-Dinosaur Renaissance work, then it's a case of Science Marches On. The Mokele-Mbembe of cryptozoology is often depicted as a sauropod native to tropical swamps and rivers. Can also overlap with Swamp Monster if the sauropod is depicted as a Prehistoric Monster.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 

  • Frank Frazetta has at least two portraits explicitly portraying sauropods as swamp dwellers.
  • The famous Rudolph F. Zallinger mural The Age of Reptiles includes — among other dated ideas — a large sauropod in water almost up to its shoulders.
  • Charles R. Knight's paintings of Sauropods usually had the animals submerged in or near some swampy area.

    Comic Books 
  • The Cartoon History of the Universe: Written at a time when evidence and arguments against the idea of aquatic sauropods were being debated, the first issue alternates between showing sauropods in the water and on land (albeit usually on very muddy ground).
  • The Transformers (Marvel): In one of the Transformers UK issues, Sludge the Brontosaurus was said to have his already tremendous strength magnified in the water, making him the strongest Transformer of all.

    Comic Strips 
  • Non Sequitur: In an Ordinary Basil storyline, immediately after escaping a hungry T. rex by swimming to the center of a nearby river (taking advantage of the beast's inability to swim), Basil and Louise find themselves quite surprised when the "rock" they're standing on rises out of the water and reveals itself to be the top of a sauropod's head. The sauropod, just as startled by them as they are of it, ends up unwittingly helping them reach the entrance to an adjacent upper cavern by throwing them in that direction with a swing of its neck.

  • Dinosaur!: It's brought up that Brontosaurus was once thought to be a swamp-dwelling animal that ate watercress, but it was later discovered to actually have lived on land and mainly eaten conifer needles.
  • The second series of Prehistoric Planet has a nod to this trope in the "Swamps" episode, where a herd of Rapetosaurus take a cooling mud bath.
  • Tyrannosaurus Sex at one point brings this up when discussing how sauropods would have mated, complete ith a shot of two of them doing it underwater... but this is only to visually represent it as an outdated ideas, and Talking Head interviewee Greg Erickson refutes this trope entirely.

    Film — Animated 
  • Dinosaur: A downplayed case. Baylene and all the other brachiosaurs featured in the movie are shown to be perfectly capable of living life and moving around on land. However, not too long after Aladar and his group arrive at the nesting grounds, Baylene proves more than happy to jump into the waters of the massive lake within the center of the nesting grounds and take a light swim.
  • Fantasia: In "The Rite of Spring", sauropods are depicted as living in swampy environments and eating aquatic plants. Notably, the Brachiosaurus are shown completely submerging themselves in the water to escape from the T. rex.
  • Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs: Heavily downplayed. The Brachiosaurus are mainly shown living and roaming about on land, but during Scrat and Scratte's Falling-in-Love Montage, they pass by a loving pair of brachiosaurs in a pond.
  • The Land Before Time: Downplayed with Littlefoot's family. While they're sometimes seen standing in the water and implied to be rather comfortable in it, they're shown to have no problems moving around on land. And throughout the series, there are multiple scenes where his grandparents feed on aquatic plants in a clear allusion to early paleoart.
  • Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase: When the gang ends up in the third level set in a prehistoric jungle, they see a Brontosaurus with its feet in a pond.
  • Scooby-Doo! and the Loch Ness Monster: The monster is portrayed as having feet as opposed to flippers, and thus resembling a sauropod when it walks on land. However, it turns out to not be real at the end.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend: Downplayed in that the sauropods featured prove very much capable of walking around on land. However, this being a film based around the famed Mokele-Mbembe, the sauropods also prove all too capable of swimming around and being right at home in water, with one of the last shots featuring the sauropods being of the titular baby and its mother swimming together in a large lake after reuniting.
  • Jurassic Park:
    • Jurassic Park (1993): Brought up when Dr. Sattler's response to seeing a Brachiosaurus rear up on its hind legs is "This thing doesn't live in a swamp!" (By The '90s, this should not have been a surprise to a paleontologist, but the line was added for the benefit of the viewers, who might not have been aware that science had marched on.) And to drive the point home further, the very next scene where Dr. Grant sees the valley full of dinosaurs, more Brachiosauruses are seen leaving a lake and walking onto dry land.
    • Jurassic World Dominion: Downplayed examples are shown in the film where several Dreadnoughtus and Brachiosaurus are seen bathing and drinking in lakes without being completely submerged.
  • King Kong (1933): Played with. An aggressive Apatosaurus encountered by Carl Denham, Jack Driscoll, and the rest of the crewmen who go after Kong to try to save Anne is first met in a massive lake within one of Skull Island's swamps, where it proceeds to capsize their raft and rough them up. However, this same sauropod turns out to be capable of walking around on land outside of the water when it subsequently chooses to continue chasing after the surviving men after they've already made it out of the water (an especially notable case in that the movie was made at a time when contemporary paleontologists themselves didn't believe as much to be possible). Of course, this Apatosaur is also apparently a carnivore, since it eats one of the crew, so its aquatic tendencies are the least of its problems.
  • Near the end of the sequel, The Son of Kong, an Apatosaurus is briefly seen raising its head out of the ocean nearby the lifeboat Hilda, Captain Englehorn, and Charlie the Cook are in and bellowing before dipping its head right back into the water. Played for Drama in that, with Skull Island sinking beneath the waves at that point, the poor sauropod didn't really have much of a choice but to be in the water.
  • The Lost World: While the Brontosaurus is mostly a land-dweller along with others of its kind, which at the time was not seen as a viable theory, at the end of the film it returns to its home after falling through a bridge by swimming in the sea the way sauropods were thought to do so.

  • Alice, Girl from the Future: Alice's pet Brontosaurus Brontya (it grew in a perfectly preserved egg found in permafrost after the egg was placed in a warm environment) is an aquatic reptile who lives in a pool with warm saltwater. It becomes plot-relevant in One Hundred Years Ahead as Alice leaves her handbag by the pool's side when Brontya gives her a ride and the handbag gets stolen.
  • All Yesterdays: While the book acknowledges the fact that sauropod research has proven the idea that all sauropods were swamp-dwellers false, its authors believe that saying none were is probably going too far in the other direction, considering the group's diversity. They postulate that a Late Cretaceous titanosaur genus named Opisthocoelicaudia may have lived a semi-aquatic lifestyle, due to it having adaptations similar to those of hippos, and depict it in the style of vintage paleoart to drive the point home.
  • Life Before Man includes a painting of some brachiosaurs standing in a lake whose waters almost reach their heads. Brontosaurus and Diplodocus are also both portrayed in swampy environments, with some of them wallowing in the water like hippos.
  • Patricks Dinosaurs: Averted in the case of the Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus, which is portrayed as fully capable of supporting itself on land. Played straight, on the other hand, with the Diplodocus, as it is shown swimming fully submerged under the water's of a massive lake. Patrick's older brother even says that it could act like a submarine due to having its nose on the top of its head; an especially clear case of artistic license due to how such theories had been disproven in the sixties, and this book was published in 1983.
  • Plutonia: Downplayed. Although published in 1924, the book depicts sauropods as primarily terrestrial. However, Brontosaurus is shown to take to water at any sign of danger.
  • Poor Little Warrior (published in 1959) is about a time-traveling hunter finding and killing a Brontosaurus in a swamp before being killed by one of its parasites. The dinosaur is presented as stupid and useless... but nowhere near as much as the hunter.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The large, water-dwelling entity Mokele-Mbembe from Congolese folklore is sometimes imagined to be a contemporary sauropod by cryptozoologists and/or creationists. Mind you, the original oral traditions describe a vaguely mammalian creature whose appearance is not remotely dinosaur-like, and there is strong evidence that it was originally an attempt to describe a rhinoceros, an animal that is not normally found in that part of Africa.

    Theme Parks 
  • Disneyland's Primeval World Diorama, which can only be viewed onboard the Disneyland Railroad, contains an assortment of incredibly outdated depictions of Mesozoic megafauna, including a small herd of Brontosaurus wading in a swamp, with one of the adults eating some aquatic plants. Justified, as the Diorama was added to the train in 1966, when the Dinosaur Renaissance was still a few years off, and the Diorama is based off of the Rite of Spring segment of the film Fantasia from 1940.
  • Jurassic Park River Adventure: A sauropod is one of the first dinosaurs seen, and it is at least up to its hips in water. This was done mainly for practical reasons, to hide the machinery of the animatronics; as mentioned above, the movie the ride is based on goes out of its way to dismiss this trope.

     Web Original 
  • Spec World: The Mokeles are fictional sauropods adapted to an aquatic lifestyle. They also showcase how utterly aberrant they are for such a lifestyle, being more crocodile-like than anything dinosaurian, deconstructing this trope.

    Video Games 
  • Carnivores has the Brachiosaurus, which was originally the only sauropod representative in the game. It was huge, creepy-trying-to-be-majestic with the graphics of the time, totally invulnerable and harmless to everything, and only found in or around water. The cliché is averted with the Amargasaurus added in the re-release Carnivores: Dinosaur Hunter, which is found on land as a proper huntable dinosaur rather than just set dressing.
  • Dinosaur King: The dinosaurs that are featured in this Mon franchise tend to be exclusively sorted based on their clade, archetype, and elemental nature. Sauropods, such as Amargasaurus, Shunosaurus, Ampelosaurus, and Isisaurus tend to be water type dinosaurs, who use elemental attacks and abilities involving some form of aquakinesis.
  • Joe & Mac: The fifth boss is a Brachiosaurus whose head and neck rises from the water, and it attacks by spitting water and fish.
  • Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition: Brachiosaurus is depicted as a head and neck rising from the water in the River and Pumping Station levels that blocks Grant's progress until he drives them off with tranquilizer darts or gas grenades.
  • Lemme Splash, an Artillery Game, parodies Brian J. Ford's claim that sauropods needed large bodies of water to reproduce. The object of the game is to launch both dinosaurs into the "sex lake".
  • Sonic Storybook Series: In the Sonic and the Secret Rings world Dinosaur Jungle, Sonic can run along the backs of Apatosaurus standing in a lake.
  • Star Fox Adventures:
    • Downplayed with the HighTops, which are a tribe of Apatosaurus. The first one encountered is at Cape Claw standing with his feet in the water. The second one encountered is held captive at Dragon Rock which is a desert-like environment, but he has no trouble moving about.
    • In the prototype game Dinosaur Planet (Rare), Krystal would have encountered a Brachiosaurus submerged in water, with water weeds dangling from his mouth.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of Count Duckula, the titular count gets scared by a Brontosaurus in a river.
  • Il était une fois...: In the first episode of ''Once Upon a Time... Man", sauropods are depicted wading in swamps.
  • Phineas and Ferb: In "It's About Time!", the boys and Candace escape from the Tyrannosaurus by grabbing onto some reeds dangling from the mouth of a feeding Alamosaurus that is standing in a body of water, who then places the three onto safety after being informed by Phineas.
  • Valley of the Dinosaurs: In "Pteranodon", Katie and Lok encounter a Brachiosaurus that is submerged in water, with only its head and neck above the surface. However, the overall series zig-zag this in that while the sauropods are often shown in the water, they can still very much move about on dry land, which is notable with the Brontosaurus in "Forbidden Fruit".

     Real Life 
  • There are a few sauropods that seem to have lived in swampy, flooded environments, such as Opisthocoelicaudia, Nigersaurus, and Paralititan (the latter of which even means "tidal giant"; it was found in what was once a huge mangrove swamp in Egypt), and fossil trackways have been found of them punting on their front legs, pushing themselves across the bed. However, they were still overall terrestrial animals that were quite capable of supporting themselves on land.
  • There are multiple extinct aquatic reptiles with long necks, from Tanystropheus to Hyphalosaurus to the more well known plesiosaurs, which give them a sauropod-like appearance. However, they are not dinosaurs let alone herbivores (they would have been using their necks to catch fish like herons do).